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BrucePartingtonAudioCoverArt

Cover art for an audiobook adaptation of "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans".

"The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans" is a Sherlock Holmes short story by the British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was first published in December 1908, appearing in The Strand magazine in the United Kingdom and in Collier's magazine in the United States. It would be published again in October 1917 as part of the anthology His Last Bow.

In the story, the brilliant consulting detective Sherlock Holmes is approached for help by his brother Mycroft,[1] an important adviser to the British government. Ten pages of the Bruce-Partington plans, design plans for the construction of a submarine, have been stolen. Seven of those pages are discovered in the pockets of a dead man whose body is found on London Underground train tracks. The dead man is identified as Arthur Cadogan West, a government employee who worked in the building where the Bruce-Partington plans were kept but who did not have access to the safe where they were stored. Sherlock Holmes is tasked with locating the three pages that are still missing, finding out how and why Cadogan West came to be in possession of the plans, how he died and how his body came to be found on the Underground tracks.

"The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans" is included in the list of the ten best Sherlock Holmes stories which were voted for by readers of Baker Street Journal in 1959.[2]

The story has been adapted for television in the United Kingdom, the United States and the Soviet Union.

Plot

The action begins on a foggy Thursday morning in November 1895. It has been foggy since Monday. The brilliant consulting detective Sherlock Holmes and his friend Dr. Watson have not been able to leave the apartment which they share for four days, due to the bad weather and poor visibility, and Holmes is beginning to get bored.

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Mycroft Holmes visits his brother. 1912 illustration by Arthur Twidle.

Holmes' boredom is relieved when he receives a message which says that his brother Mycroft, an extremely important adviser to the British government, is coming to visit. The message says that Mycroft's visit is related to the matter of Cadogan West. Sherlock Holmes is not familiar with the name Cadogan West but Watson remembers seeing it in the newspaper. According to the newspaper article, Arthur Cadogan West lived in Woolwich. He worked at Woolwich Arsenal, meaning that he was a government employee whose job was connected to weapons and the military. He was last seen alive by his fiancée Violet Westbury at 7:30pm on Monday. He was found dead at 6:00am on Tuesday, his body being found on London Underground train tracks near Aldgate Station. His head had been badly crushed. His pockets contained a check book (from which his identity was established), a small amount of cash, two tickets for his local theater and some technical papers. He had no train ticket. Holmes immediately deduces that Mycroft's interest in the man's death is due to the technical papers he was carrying.

Mycroft Holmes arrives with Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard. Mycroft explains that the technical papers which were found on Cadogan West's dead body were part of the Bruce-Partington plans. The Bruce-Partington plans are documents which describe how to build a submarine. The complete plans run to thirty pages. They are kept in a safe in a room in Woolwich Arsenal with burglar-proof doors and windows. The safeguarding of the plans is the personal responsibility of the distinguished scientist Sir James Walter. Only one other person has a key to the safe where the plans are kept, Sidney Johnson, who was Cadogan West's immediate superior at Woolwich Arsenal. Ten pages of the plans were taken from the safe but only seven were found on Cadogan West's body. The three pages which are still missing are the most important ones. It has been said that foreign scientists could work out how to build a submarine from those three pages alone.

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An Underground employee shows Holmes, Watson and Lestrade the tracks where Cadogan West's body was found. 1912 illustration by Arthur Twidle.

Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson and Inspector Lestrade go to Aldgate Station. A London Underground employee shows them the tracks where Cadogan West's body was found. It has been determined that his body must have fallen from a train which passed at around midnight on Monday. The carriages of that train have been examined, they showed no signs of a struggle having occurred and there are no reports of a door being left open on the train. Holmes notices that there is no blood on the tracks. He also notices that the tracks curve near Aldgate Station and is told that it is one of the few places on the Underground where the tracks do so. Holmes deduces that Cadogan West was killed elsewhere and his body was placed on the roof of a train. It fell off when the train went around a curve.

Holmes and Watson go to the home of Sir James Walter but are told that Sir James died that morning. They speak to his brother Colonel Valentine Walter. Colonel Walter says that his brother was devastated by the loss of the Bruce-Partington plans and believes that their theft led directly to his death. He does not want to speak to Holmes or Watson any further.

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson see Cadogan West's fiancée Violet Westbury, She finds it impossible to believe that Cadogan West could have stolen the Bruce-Partington plans. She does not think that he would be tempted to sell them to a foreign spy because he did not need money. She does, however, recall him recently saying that it would be easy for a traitor to get hold of the plans. She says that on the night that she last saw him alive, she and Cadogan West were both walking to the theater when he suddenly ran off and left her alone.

At Woolwich Arsenal, Holmes and Watson see Sidney Johnson. Mr. Johnson says that he left the building after Cadogan West on Monday evening. He also explains that, in order to take the Bruce-Partington plans, Cadogan West would have needed copies of three keys, the key to the safe, the key to the room where the safe is and the key to the building. The only person who had all three keys was Sir James Walter. No keys were found on Cadogan West's body. Sidney Johnson has to admit that it would be strange for Cadogan West to steal the original plans since he had the technical knowledge to make copies of them.

From outside the Woolwich Arsenal building, Holmes can see that the metal shutters on the window of the room where the Bruce-Partington plans are stored do not meet in the middle. It is not difficult to see inside the room when the shutters are closed. At Woolwich Station, the clerk at the ticket office tells Holmes that he saw Cadogan West on Monday evening, that he bought a ticket for the 8:15pm train to London Bridge and that he had an "excited and nervous manner".

Sherlock Holmes asks his brother Mycroft to send him a list of foreign spies in London who might have been interested in buying the Bruce-Partington plans. Mycroft sends him a list which names Adolph Mayer, Louis La Rothiere and Hugo Oberstein[3] and gives their addresses. Sherlock Holmes goes to investigate those addresses.

Illustration for "The Bruce Partington Plans" (Frederic Dorr Steele, 1908)

Dr. Watson readies the tools for a burglary. 1908 illustration by Frederic Dorr Steele.

Watson later receives a message from Holmes, telling him to come to a restaurant in Kensington and to bring tools which could be used in a burglary. In the restaurant, Holmes tells his friend that Underground trains pass above ground by the back of Hugo Oberstein's house in Caulfield Gardens, Kensington, and that trains often pause there because it is at the intersection of several tracks. Holmes is also certain that Oberstein is not at home and has left the country. He suggests that he and Watson break into the house to see if they can find anything which connects Oberstein to the theft of the Bruce-Partington plans. In the house, Holmes finds several advertisements cut from the personals page of the Daily Telegraph newspaper. The advertisements are signed "Pierrot", refer to paying cash in exchange for something and giving two knocks as a signal before entering a meeting place.

The following day, Sherlock Holmes places an advertisement signed "Pierrot" in the Daily Telegraph which says, "To-night. Same hour. Same place. Two taps. Most vitally important. Your own safety is at risk." In the evening, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson break into Oberstein's house again, accompanied by Mycroft Holmes and Inspector Lestrade. At 11:00pm, somebody knocks twice on the door. When he enters, he is revealed to be Colonel Valentine Walter.

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Colonel Valentine Walter is captured. 1912 illustration by Arthur Twidle.

It is explained that Colonel Valentine Walter was heavily in debt. Oberstein offered him one thousand pounds for the pages from the Bruce-Partington plans. Colonel Walter took impressions of his brother Sir James' keys in order to steal the papers. He thinks that his brother knew he was involved in the theft because he had caught him with his keys before. On the night of the theft, Cadogan West, who had suspicions about Colonel Walter, saw the colonel on the foggy street and followed him to Woolwich Arsenal. Through the gap in the metal blind in the window, he saw Colonel Walter take the plans and followed him by train to London. On the doorstep of Oberstein's house, Cadogan West confronted the two men. Oberstein struck him on the head and killed him. Oberstein decided to dispose of the body by placing it on the roof of one of the trains which often paused right by his window. The spy kept the three most valuable pages of the plans and placed the rest in Cadogan West's pockets to implicate him in the crime. Shortly afterwards, Oberstein left for Paris.

Colonel Walter is told that he will receive a lighter prison sentence if he helps to capture Oberstein. Sherlock Holmes dictates a letter, in which Colonel Walter tells Oberstein that he did not get the most valuable page of all from the Bruce-Partington plans. The letter says that Oberstein can get a copy of that page but he will have to come to the Charing Cross Hotel, London, to get it since Colonel Walter cannot leave the country at present.

Oberstein is arrested at the Charing Cross Hotel, the missing three pages of the Bruce-Partington plans are recovered and the spy is sentenced to fifteen years in jail. Although he presumably receives a reduced sentence, Colonel Valentine Walter dies in prison.

Adaptations

"The Bruce-Partington Plans" is the title of the ninth episode of the BBC TV series Sherlock Holmes, starring Douglas Wilmer as Holmes and Nigel Stock as Watson, which first aired in the United Kingdom on April 17, 1965. Most of the episode now exists in sound only.

The TV movie Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson - The Twentieth Century Approaches, starring Vasily Livanov as Holmes and Vitali Solomin as Watson, which was first shown on television in the Soviet Union in 1986, is based on "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans", "The Adventure of the Second Stain", "The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb" and "His Last Bow".

"The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans" was adapted as the twelfth episode of the Granada TV series The Return of Sherlock Holmes which starred Jeremy Brett as the famous detective. The episode was first broadcast in the United Kingdom on the ITV network on April 27, 1988. The actor Charles Gray, best known for playing Blofeld in the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever and the narrator in the 1975 movie The Rocky Horror Picture Show, appears in the episode as Mycroft.

Benedict Cumberbatch filming Sherlock cropped

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes.

The 2001 TV movie The Royal Scandal, which stars Matt Frewer as Holmes and Kenneth Welsh as Watson, is based on "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans" and "A Scandal in Bohemia". The film was first shown on the Hallmark Channel in the United States.

"The Great Game", the third episode from the first season of the BBC TV series Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, is a partial adaptation of "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans" with additional elements taken from "The Adventure of the Naval Treaty" (another Sherlock Holmes story which concerns the theft of secret documents) and several other stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The episodes "Blood is Thicker" (which first aired on CBS on November 14, 2013) and "Art in the Blood" (which first aired on CBS on May 8, 2014) from the American Sherlock Holmes TV series Elementary, starring Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu, both draw inspiration from "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans".

Footnotes

  1. The character of Sherlock Holmes' older brother Mycroft is introduced in the 1893 short story "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter". He also appears in the 1893 story "The Final Problem".
  2. In the list of the top ten Sherlock Holmes stories, voted for by readers of Baker Street Journal in 1959, "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans" is ranked as the seventh best, following "The Adventure of the Speckled Band", "The Red-Headed League", "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle", "Silver Blaze", "A Scandal in Bohemia" and "The Musgrave Ritual".
  3. Spies named La Rothiere and Oberstein are also referred to in the 1904 Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of the Second Stain".

External links